When Global News covered the release of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC’s) report, A Focus on Family Violence in Canada in October 2016, it said, “the report takes a hard look at reported instances of family violence, and explores the challenging job of identifying, preventing or stopping the violence.”
“For many, this report may be difficult and disturbing to read,” states the report’s introduction by Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer.
The report’s key messages include:
Family violence is an important public health issue. Its impacts on health go beyond direct physical injury, are widespread and long-lasting, and can be severe, particularly for mental health. Even less severe forms of family violence can affect health.
Some Canadian families are experiencing unhealthy conflict, abuse and violence that have the potential to affect their health. Known collectively as family violence, it takes many forms, ranges in severity and includes neglect as well as physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse. People who experience family violence need to be supported while people who are abusive or violent need to be held accountable.
Family violence is a complex issue that can happen at any point in a lifetime. In Canada:
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- An average of 172 homicides are committed every year by a family member.
- For approximately 85,000 victims of violent crimes, the person responsible for the crime was a family member.
- Just under 9 million, or about one in three Canadians, said they had experienced abuse before the age of 15 years.
- Just under 760,000 Canadians said they had experienced unhealthy spousal conflict, abuse or violence in the previous five years.
- More than 766,000 older Canadians said they had experienced abuse or neglect in the previous year.
Women, children, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or questioning are at greater risk of experiencing family violence and its impacts. Women are more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner and more likely to experience sexual abuse, more severe and chronic forms of intimate partner violence, particularly forms that include threats and force to gain control. Women are also more likely to experience health impacts.
Violence against women and children is a public health issue of global importance. Global data shows that one out of every three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime. Approximately 18% of women and almost 8% of men say they have been victims of sexual abuse as children.
Family violence is complicated — no single factor can accurately predict when it will happen. Different combinations of factors at the individual, family, relationship, community and societal level affect the risk for family violence. Examples of factors include beliefs about gender and violence, and relationship characteristics such as power and control.
People are reluctant to talk about family violence, meaning it often goes unreported. Reasons for not reporting family violence include fear and concerns about safety, stigma, and not being believed. In some cases, people believe it is a personal matter or not important enough. They may also be dependent on the person who is being abusive or violent.
Using what we know about the social determinants of health can help prevent family violence and build effective ways to address it. Approaches to prevention include changing beliefs and attitudes, building safe and supportive communities, supporting our youth, healthy families and relationships and promoting good health and wellbeing.
More knowledge is needed about the effectiveness of prevention strategies and interventions in different situations.
The report also explores why family violence is an important public health issue for Canadians, saying:
“Healthy families are the backbone of strong and productive individuals, communities and societies. They come in many shapes and sizes and are safe havens that provide food, warmth, shelter, security, support, safety and love.
Family violence is an indicator of families in crisis and in need of help. In 2014, 323,643 Canadians were victims of a violent crime reported to the police. For approximately 85,000 of these victims, the person responsible for the crime was a family member.
Only 30% of Canadians said that the police became aware of incidents where their spouse had been violent or abusive. This means that many incidents of family violence never come to the attention of the police. “
(Source: Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2016, A Focus on Family Violence in Canada © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, October 2016)